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Warning Signs of Suicide and What You Can Do

If you think a person could be suicidal, ask, "Have you thought about suicide?" Asking won't make it more likely that they will try to hurt themselves. In fact, most people with suicidal thoughts say they are relieved when the question is asked.

If they say yes, they may already have a plan for how and when they will attempt it. Find out as much as you can. The more detailed the plan, and the easier it is to carry out, the more danger the person is in right now.

Woman sitting at a table, looking depressed

Know the warning signs

The warning signs for suicide include:

  • Threats or talk of suicide

  • Talking about death and dying

  • Changing eating or sleeping habits (for instance, not sleeping or sleeping all of the time)

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Suddenly buying a gun or other weapon

  • Saying things such as "Soon, I won't be a problem" or "Nothing matters"

  • Giving away things they own, making out a will, or planning their funeral

  • Suddenly being happy or calm after being depressed

Things that put a person at a higher risk of attempting suicide include:

  • A history of suicide in the person's family

  • Past suicide attempts

  • Alcohol and drug use, along with impulsive behaviors

  • Having a diagnosed mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder

  • History of trauma or abuse including bullying

  • Major losses such as a divorce, death of a loved one, money problems, or legal problems

  • Having access to a lethal weapon (such as guns in the home)

  • Long-term (chronic) physical illnesses, including chronic pain

  • Being around others with suicidal behavior

Get help

Don't try to handle this alone. You can be the most help by getting the person to a trained professional. Suicidal thinking may be a sign of depression. This is a serious but treatable illness.

In an emergency—call 911

Don't leave the person alone. Anyone who is at imminent risk of suicide needs psychiatric services right away. The person must be constantly watched, and never left out of sight. Call 911 or a 24-hour suicide crisis hotline. You can search for this online. You can also take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Don't keep it a secret and don't wait

Call a mental health clinic or a licensed mental health professional in your area right away. This may be a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, psychiatric or licensed clinical social worker, marriage and family counselor, or clergy. If you don't know how to contact such professionals and there is an immediate risk, call 911. Tell them you need help for a person who is thinking about suicide.

Resources

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

    800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK)

    www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

  • National Suicide Hotline

    800-784-2433 (800-SUICIDE)

  • National Institute of Mental Health

    866-615-6464

    www.nimh.nih.gov

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness

    800-950-6264

    www.nami.org

  • Mental Health America

    800-969-6642

    www.nmha.org

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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